Spiritual Pride Needs a Context, Part 1

“But so shall it not be among you; but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your minister; And whosoever of you would be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”                                                                                                                                           (Mark 10:43-44)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

For it to surface, spiritual pride needs a suitable context in our Christian life.  In Mark 9:33-37 and in Luke 9:46-48, the story is told of the apostles disputing as they traveled on the road, who should be the greatest among them.  They knew by then who Jesus was.  They knew that they had been chosen to be the apostles of the Messiah the King.  They suspected that events were coming to a head and that somehow Jesus would take His rightful place as the leader of the Jewish nation.  They knew this opened up opportunities for them to occupy positions of leadership in Jerusalem.  This new reality occasioned the dispute among them as to who should occupy the highest positions in the new upcoming kingdom.

This internal debate amongst these men could not have happened a few years earlier, outside of the context of their becoming apostles and disciples of Jesus.  The thought of who would be the greatest among them in God’s upcoming kingdom on earth, which they mistakenly thought would be politically established in the very near future in the capital city of Jerusalem, could not conceivably have happened while they were ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, or revolutionary zealots.  Only after successfully following Jesus for two or three years as apostles and disciples did this tempting context materialize into a foreseeable eventuality.

Matthew 20:20-28 tells the story of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus and asking Him if her two sons could sit on His right hand and on His left hand in His kingdom.  This request could not have been made without James and John being in the inner circle of apostles close to Jesus.  The extraordinary ministry of Jesus created high future expectations among His followers for the nation of Israel.  This provided the context for this forgivable and understandable ambition on the part of the mother of James and John.

Jesus did not rebuke the mother of James and John for this request (He probably inwardly admired the courage of her advocacy for her sons), but simply answered that she did not clearly understand the thing she was asking of Him.  The scriptures then say that when the other ten apostles heard what the mother of James and John had done, they did not get upset with her but they were “indignant” against James and John.

The response that Jesus has for the apostles arguing among themselves as to who should be the greatest was to take a child and set him as an example in their midst, and tell them that “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (Luke 9:48).  The apostles and disciples learned this important lesson well, and had the right spirit regarding this issue in their first century ministries.  After these specific lessons by Jesus, and after the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles (John 13:2-17), we do not hear anything more about who will be the greatest among the apostles or disciples.

Gethsemane, Part 5

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”                                                                                                     (Rom. 5:1-2)

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

C.S. Lewis said that we are not just imperfect people who need growth, but we are rebels who need to lay down our arms.  Laying down our arms occurs when we repent of our sins, recognize our need for God, and accept Jesus into our lives.  But this is not a one-time event at our Christian conversion.  The Christian life as a disciple involves a desire, a bend of the heart toward daily surrender and yielding to God.  It involves placing Jesus Christ at the top of our priority list.  That is why Jesus said we have to pick up our cross daily (Luke 9:23).

For the Christian disciple, the attitude of “I want to do things my way,” has to be crucified on the cross.  The calling of God for our lives, which displaces our own self-in-charge nature, establishes a Godly context, a clear set of goals, and a very specific arrangement of situations and circumstances, which fashions a path of faith within the course of our lives where the old rebel in us has increasingly more difficulty expressing itself.  A genuine walk of faith set-up by Jesus Christ creates constructive and positive things to do that lead to personal growth and ministry to others, absent the rebellion of self-sovereignty.

When Moses received his calling at the burning bush, and obediently set off toward Egypt to deliver the Israelites, he began living in the non-rebel mode.  After Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, it was the action of following Jesus within this new context of being the missionary evangelist to the gentile world, which enabled Paul to now live as a non-rebel.  When Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:32, “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”, it is within the actual context of strengthening the newly born Christian church in Jerusalem that Peter is fulfilling his calling in living as a non-rebel.

This is why the genuine gospel message of repentance, salvation, faith, trust, and transformation into a new person “in Christ” is so important.  The “truth that will set us free” is the life following Jesus in non-rebellion to His leading.  This is why we follow a crucified Son of God.  The will and way of Jesus was crucified to the will of God the Father, in the Garden of Gethsemane and at Calvary, for the benefit of all of mankind.  Jesus went before us in this regard.  The fact that Jesus Himself was without sin, tells us that the way of the cross is perfect.  This is one of the key character attributes which qualifies Jesus to be our leader.  We learn daily how to “lay down our arms” and become a non-rebel, in terms of our relationship with God by following the sinless, perfect non-rebel in this regard…Jesus Christ.

Every born-again Christian can examine themselves as to who is in charge in their lives…self or Jesus Christ.  Every Christian can enter into their personal “prayer closet”, get on their knees, lift their arms up to God, and ask God to assume a greater role in their lives.  Every Christian can ask God in prayer to open up their spiritual eyes, and unclog their spiritual ears, so that they can see and hear God better in the specific ways that God would like to lead them.  If it is possible for God to weep in heaven, this is the type of sincere request from His saints that will probably bring tears of heartfelt joy to God’s eyes.  Our walk of faith means that much to God.  Jesus died and rose again that we might have an abundant life through this living journey of faith, now and forever.

Gethsemane, Part 4

“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is not difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;                                                                                                               (Rom. 3:22-23)

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

If ever there was a persuasive and clearly demonstrated argument for the wrongness of man going his own way apart from God, the cross is that argument.  Man’s actions on that day condemned not Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, but the practice of a religion that conspires with a “civilized” Roman judicial system that can both be so far off-the-mark that they end up killing the God and Creator of the universe.

If ever there was a well-stated, practically demonstrated argument for trusting and relying upon a capable and loving God to show us the correct approach to life, the cross is that argument.  Salvation, redemption, and a new resurrected life of love and peace is made possible by God through this enormous blunder by mankind in putting to death the Creator of life itself on a cross fashioned crudely out of two large, heavy pieces of wood and some metal spikes.  That God is intelligent and well-intentioned enough to take the worst action in all of human history, in all of eternity, and turn it right-side up into the very means to provide forgiveness, cleansing from sin, and re-birth into a new spiritual life of joy and peace, is something so sublimely powerful it may take a lifetime in heaven to comprehend and appreciate.

On one side of the cross was the enormous tally of all of history’s offenses, misdeeds, sorrows, injustices, and shortcomings that are a result of fallen mankind going its own way apart from God.  On the other side was the contrasting approach of Jesus using surrender, faith, dependence, and reliance upon the Father’s uniquely ingenious plan to cancel out the weight of this massive debt of human sin.  No wonder Jesus sweated great drops of blood when finally confronted with the insurmountable task of nullifying this great mass of self-centered rebellion, using only His own spotless and blemish-free life, and a lamb-like surrender and reliance upon the will of the Father.  No wonder Jesus had to return moments later to the same spot in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray a second time “more earnestly” (Luke 22:44).

At the cross is where Christians must take their cue to strike out on the path of faith and trust in God, to match the stories of the lives of people of faith as patterned in the Bible.  Self-autonomy, self-reliance, and self-direction are on the wrong side of the cross, in the territory of man-made religion, in the camp of the spiritually blind religious leaders and the worldly-minded Roman authorities who crucified Jesus.

Gethsemane, Part 3

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.                                                     Rom. 1:16

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

In Isaiah 14:13-14, it is the “I will” portions of Lucifer’s statements “I will ascend into heaven” and “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,” that is the official start of sin in the universe.  Lucifer, like many of us today, thought he knew better than God.  This is where the “I will do this and I will do that,” self-serving, God-less attitude comes from.  By contrast, the example that Jesus sets for us with enormous personal difficulty in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the way that He opened up for us in life through His own painful death on the cross, is based upon the words: “nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”

Lucifer and unregenerate mankind, by contrast, hate the idea of submitting themselves to the loving and unselfish rulership of God in their lives to such an extent that they will actually go to the extreme measure of attempting to kill God Himself to get rid of this idea.  When God willingly allowed Himself to be crucified through the Second Person of the Trinity, through Jesus the Son of God, He unmasked the truly evil character of the go-it-on-our-own-without-God approach to life.  Stubborn pride is that strong within self-autonomy. It will refuse God any participation in our lives if this participation infringes even a little upon our own will and way.  That is why the world pushes Jesus Christ away.  That is why the gospel message of love and forgiveness is so inexplicably offensive to the world.

This is the central issue at the core of our existence.  When we are operating as our own god, atop the throne of our lives, we are lost.  This is the root cause behind humanity’s problems.  This issue cost Jesus Christ His life, on our behalf, through the cross.  It will cost us death to our self-in-charge natures when we choose to follow Christ.  An essential part of becoming born-again in the Spirit is not only acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior, but also restoring Him to His rightful position as Lord in our lives.

In the motion picture Ben Hur, staring Charlton Heston, toward the end of the movie Judah Ben Hur, his future wife Esther, and his mother and sister are sitting on the side of a long stairway as the condemned prisoner Jesus is ascending the steps carrying his cross.  Judah Ben Hur’s mother Miriam, and his sister, Tersa, both have contracted leprosy.  Esther had thought to bring the two women to hear Jesus preach, and thus give them the hope that there was a life after death, free of leprosy.  But instead of being able to listen to the teaching of Jesus as they had hoped, all four were surprised to find that Jesus had been tried, condemned, and sentenced to death by crucifixion.  As Jesus approached them carrying his cross, Esther asked in amazed astonishment “how can this be?’  How could the religious rulers in Jerusalem and the Roman authorities have condemned Jesus, a teacher of righteousness and the healer of so many people, to something as unthinkable as execution by Roman crucifixion?

At the cross is where the contrast between the reality of human sin crashes up against the divine love of God.  Mankind at that moment was unwittingly displaying its own worst condition.  In open view, for all to see, was the futility of man’s wisdom and works when they exist apart from God, as mankind was performing the most embarrassing indignity possible in putting to death its own Creator.  Nothing remotely imaginable could be more wrong than this.  To God’s everlasting credit, this very same misguided and inexcusable action by the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and Roman rulers, was providing the means for salvation and eternal life to mankind through a divine atonement for man’s sins.  At that moment in history, the two opposing viewpoints and lifestyles available to all human beings through the freedom of choice…self-autonomy apart from God leading to sin, and fellowship with God leading to holiness…violently collide with deadly impact at the cross of Christ.

Gethsemane, Part 2

“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”                                                                                                                              Rom. 1:17

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

However we interpret the many sides of the agony of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, in trying to understand the limitlessness of the divine love of God, one important lesson stands out.  If God is going to ask me to give my all, and He is offering His help in this regard, then I must have confidence that He has actually been there Himself ahead of me.  I must have absolute confidence that my Guide through this adventure of faith truly knows the best possible route to take.  In some way that we can only begin to discover through our own God-composed biblical walk of faith, the human side of Jesus Christ gave His all in Gethsemane and at Calvary, in exhibiting unselfish love and pure righteousness in the face of enormous opposition, in order to pre-qualify Himself to be the way, the truth, and the life.

One of the accounts of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is recorded in Luke 22:39-46:

39 And he came out, and went, as he was accustomed, to the Mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.

40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.

41 And he was withdrawn from them a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

45 And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow.

46 And said unto them, Why sleep ye? Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

The previous chapter noted that Luke 22:44 says that Jesus prayed “more earnestly” and that this is a remarkable statement.  We would naturally think that the initial earnest prayer of Jesus regarding any issue would always be entirely adequate the first time, seeing that He is the eternal, perfect Son of God.  The fact that Jesus (God) had to go back a second time and pray more earnestly, tells us just how difficult it was to take upon Himself the sins and transgressions of mankind.

We see in the divine approach that Jesus takes in the Garden of Gethsemane toward this great challenge, a pattern for how we are to confront the difficulties and challenges in our own lives.  Jesus was spiritually battling and overcoming the world’s sin, which is based upon rebellion and self-autonomy in mankind, by using the opposite, counter-balancing weapons of surrender, dependence, and reliance upon God the Father’s way instead of His own way (Luke 22:34).  It took the direct opposite attitude of living for oneself, of putting one’s own interests first, of side-stepping a difficult situation, of saving one’s own skin, and of running away from a challenge, for Jesus to cancel out the sum total of mankind’s sin and fulfill His role as the Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.  This is the part of the first advent, messianic scenario that the self-absorbed Lucifer totally miscalculated.  This is how God used the short-sighted blindness of evil, rooted in self-centeredness, to turn the lowliness of the cross into the exalted glory of the resurrection for our benefit.

This is precisely why the cross of Christ, for man, is the way back to God (Isaiah 53:6).  The way back to God is not through self-autonomy or self-direction, using our God-given natural gifts and abilities independently apart from God.  These are the “fallen” tendencies that got us into trouble to begin with in the Garden of Eden, that actually separated us from a relationship with God and that Jesus is redeeming us from on the cross.

Gethsemane, Part 1

I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.                                                                                     Galatians 2:20

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

The idea that God is the author of life-plans that lead to situations and circumstances requiring complete dependence upon God, with successful resolutions generating the broadest possible spiritual benefits, is a theme that runs throughout the Bible.  The life-plan of Jesus Christ the Son of God, which culminates in the crucifixion and resurrection, is the perfect example of this concept.  Hebrews 5:8-9 reads “Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”  The lessons that Jesus (the second Person of the Trinity) needed to experience first-hand for Himself through a life lived in a human body here on earth, in order to become the qualified leader able to help us to repent, trust, and surrender our lives to Him, came to a focal point at the events surrounding the crucifixion.

We discover in God’s own plan scripted for His Son Jesus at the cross, that circumstances were so challenging that Jesus had to exercise perfect faith, trust, dependence, and reliance in God the Father, approaching the limits of His own divine capacity, to achieve a successful outcome.  The fact that the scripture says that Jesus learned obedience by the things that He suffered, tells us that Jesus went through the experience of dependence and reliance upon God the Father, just like we do.  Even the Son of God, when living within the limitations of a human body, must confront and deal with the same issues we do (Hebrews 4:15).

Humans cannot fathom the depths of God’s divine love.  The agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is partially a mystery (Mark 14:34).  But God included in the New Testament gospels this record of the struggle of Jesus in Gethsemane, with honesty and candor for a reason.

This author does not claim to fully understand the duality of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His human nature, which forms the bond between His earthly experience and our personal walk of faith, for all eternity.  I do not claim to understand the dynamics of the Trinity, in which God is One, yet three distinct Persons enjoying loving friendship in unity from eternity past.  Jesus Christ the Son of God cries out from the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  More painful than the crucifixion itself was Jesus’ momentary separation from the Father, as a result of taking upon Himself the sins of the world.  Hebrews 2:9 tells us that Jesus tasted the bitterness of death for every man, so that we would never have to experience this intense agony of separation from God.  Jesus tells His followers that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  Because of the sacrifice of Jesus in Gethsemane and at Calvary, born-again Christians will never have to say, over the long expanse of eternity, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Yet however we try to reach a balanced comprehension of the divinity and humanness of Jesus, this account of the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane tells us that Jesus approached the Father for strength just as He did on several occasions, retiring alone sometimes all night to pray (Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12).  God is telling us in this Gethsemane account that Jesus did not attempt to go it alone in self-reliance in facing the upcoming ordeal of the cross.  God is telling us with tender, frank, and forthcoming honesty about the depths of His own struggle in this balanced-on-a-razor’s edge, monumentally volatile plan of salvation through the cross and the resurrection, designed for our redemption.

We therefore find that in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before the trial and crucifixion, that Jesus experiences difficulty with the completion of His calling and must rely upon the Father for the strength and endurance to be the Lamb-of-God sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Even though Jesus knows from childhood that this is the future destiny of His earthly life, when the moment finally approaches, the highest features of divine character are pushed to the limits (if that is possible with God in a human body) of Jesus’ own endurance in offering Himself for the sins and transgressions of mankind.  This is why Jesus said with relief and triumph just before He died on the cross: “It is finished.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane, God reveals to us openly and candidly that His own plan devised to transfer to the second Person of the Trinity the weight of the sins of mankind through the Son of God’s atonement on the cross…was not all that easy, even for Jesus.  Otherwise Jesus would have breezed through the Garden of Gethsemane without saying his soul was heavy unto death, or having to pray “more earnestly”, or asking the Father to remove this cup of suffering from Him, or sweating drops of blood while praying, or having one of the great angels from heaven (possibly Gabriel), visit Him for comfort and support.

In this life-script that God crafted for Himself, we see a level of moral character that instructs us as to the heights of what we can expect in our own spiritual journey.  God does not ask us from a comfortably safe distance to step into the risk and adventure of the Christian life.  God will not challenge us to the core of our being in terms of character, faith, trust, and reliance upon God, that in times of persecution may even cost the Christian his or her life, without Himself having also shared this similar experience.  God composed and orchestrated His own life here on earth in such a way that, in regard to all of life’s critical issues, He challenged Himself through the experience of the cross.  This set the example for us to have a foreglimpse of what is involved in a walk of faith with God.  Because Christ lives within the believer’s heart, we have the one and only Person helping us “from the inside” who has successfully been through the cross and resurrection experience ahead of us.

The High Price of Salvation

“Which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”                                                                                                                          (1 Cor. 2:8)

To the religious leaders in Jerusalem in the first century the messiah was merely a cheap “means to an end”…a useful deliverer to set the nation of Israel free from Roman political and military occupation.  They could not see any value in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus the Christ leading to a journey of faith after the pattern of Abraham, Moses, David, and the other great men and women of faith in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament).

These religious leaders were users of people…users of this world.  They were experts at bending people to their will.  In this mindset, they were incapable of an open, teachable, give-and-take personal relationship with God through a biblical-quality journey of faith.  They did not want to know anything about Proverbs 3:5-6 or Jeremiah 31:31-34.  Resistance to personal reformation, repentance, and change sadly blocked this out of their consciousness.

The new covenant Christian life is the diametric opposite of this mindset.  We are not a “means to an end” for God.  God is not “using” us in our journeys of faith.  God-composed journey of faith life-scripts are designed to establish and solidify a personal relationship with God.  Jesus said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Jesus Christ offers deliverance in the deepest and fullest sense imaginable.  Christianity and God-composed journeys of faith are all about radical change in the highest and best possible way.

Roman crucifixion is what the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes in first-century Jerusalem thought of this concept of a biblical-quality walk of faith following Jesus Christ into personal and national deliverance.  They were blinded by worldly horizontal thinking.

The rejection of Jesus the Son of God, based upon worldly perceptions and calculations, is factored into the equation of the cross (Isa. 53).  God makes this rejection of a personal relationship with Him…condensed, focused, and intensified at the cross of Calvary…the portal through which salvation and eternal life comes to people of faith through Christ.

But the rejection of a personal relationship with God through a journey of faith…culminating in the cross…is not just one factor.  It is the main component in the social, political, and religious reality that sends Jesus of Nazareth to a brutal and ignominious death on the cross.

Jesus encourages the disciples in John 16:33 by saying: “…be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  This forever places worldly conventional normalcy in the subordinate position it merits in relation to a God-composed journey of faith.

An old saying aptly applies here: “If we aim for nothing, we are sure to hit it.”  Our new covenant Christian life is not a cheaply purchased, cheaply gained means to an end.  The value to God of a joint-venture journey of faith with us is seen in the high purchase price of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God.